CRA agrees to move forward with Frenchtown Redevelopment Partners’ plan
By St. Clair Murraine
Outlook staff writer
A proposed plan that could become the gateway to a redeveloped Frenchtown would include a corner lot owned by the city, setting off a sometimes contentious discussion on funding for the project.
However, the eight-member CRA board agreed unanimously to further consider planned development by the Frenchtown Redevelopment Partners (FRP).
The land in question is the former Shelter and Renaissance Community Center properties. Complete plans call for the proposed buildings to take up a city block between Martin Luther King Blvd. and Macomb Street from east to west and Tennessee Street to Virginia Street.
In what was essentially an eye-opener last Thursday for the Community Redevelopment Agency, the board gave the Frenchtown Redevelopment Partners six months to bring all of the details to the table at its Nov. 6 meeting.
Should the CRA approve FRP’s plan in six months, the board will approve an agreement for the group to purchase the land. That could be done by early next year.
The CRA’s decision came after being presented a feasibility study done by Orlando-based GAI Consultants Inc. on other possible developments in the same area that FRP wants to purchase.
But the consultant had concerns over how sustainable parts of the FPR’s plan could be. Specifically, he pointed out the successful longevity of office space based on current trends, while saying that FPR could fill an immediate need for student housing.
Roxanne Manning, executive director of the Community Redevelopment Agency, gave the board an overview of the project – housing, shops, business offices and many amenities.
However, County Commissioner Kristin Dozier and City Commissioner Nancy Miller questioned whether the project would be an outright purchase or a donation. Both had concerns whether FRP’s proposal, which is spearheaded by Bethel Missionary Baptist Church’s minister Rev. R. B. Holmes, would set it up as a non-profit.
“When the developers come, I need to know if it’s going to be non-profit or not,” Miller said. “I don’t think that is going to work.”
Holmes answered that concern.
“This is about a profit-making venture,” Holmes said. “It is about employment, entrepreneurship and community empowerment.”
The CRA has invested more than $6 million into the properties, with the last $2.5 million going to demolishing the Shelter and clearing the land.
While the CRA is spending redevelopment money on other projects in Frenchtown, Dozier said, “I’m not sure we have the money to do that.”
She added that the project supporters should return “with all the options on the table.”
Bethel has already made significant investment to the tune of $30 million in the redevelopment of Frenchtown. It owns Carolina Oaks, a 24-unit mixed-income housing development, Bethel Towers, a housing facility for senior citizens, and Bethel Christian Academy.
Bethel also was the driving force behind the establishment of the Frenchtown Financial Opportunity Center, which is a joint venture between Envision and FSU credit unions.
Keith Bowers, who heads up Bethel’s economic ministries, said the church’s existing investments should be enough for the group to get first consideration to purchase the property.
“We understand the value of having something that has appreciative value that is reinvested in the community,” Bowers said. “That is the only way communities grow and we do not want to impede that.
“We’ve got to get the numbers and make sure we understand those numbers and make sure we’ve got financing.”
Bowers said he couldn’t disclose how much the project will cost because the group is still seeking out investors, while completing details for the CRA.
Among the details that will be presented will be a historical perspective, Bowers said. Many of the existing businesses along Macomb Street will have an option to be tenants in the proposed buildings because their ties to Frenchtown run deep.
“That’s the main point,” he said. “If you were to have an outside developer, that outside developer may not be as sensitive to the historical and emotional ties that are still bound in that community.
“We are not excluding. We are not alienating. We are bringing folks into the fold and we are trying to bring about real economic development that has a place for everybody.”
County Commissioner Bill Proctor encouraged the CRA to back the Frenchtown Redevelopment Partners, harkening to a recent visit he took with the Chamber of Commerce to Nashville, Tenn. The trip was for Tallahassee’s business and political leaders to see best practices that led to a development and jobs boom in the city.
Tallahassee should consider the same approach as Nashville, which Proctor said took chances on some projects to attain its current growth.
“We’ve got to believe in ourselves,” Proctor said. “We’ve got a great group and I’m looking forward to great things.”